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Times explores hybrid sport of sleds, skiers

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Those in the know, says The New York Times, do not call snowmobiles snowmobiles. They call them sleds.

That observation is in a story about the hybrid sport of snowmobiling-skiing/sledding, which the Times states is relatively new, although the Jackson Hole News & Guide was reporting phenomenon 10 to 15 years ago, and papers in Vail and Aspen soon after.

"Not so long ago snowmobilers and backcountry skiers mixed about as well as motor oil and water," writes the Times. "But the rise of ‘sled-skiing,’ also called hybrid skiing or, occasionally, Ski-Doo skiing, has blurred the lines in the well-worn motorized-versus-nonmotorized debate — and in many places it has brought new crowds and new headaches to North America’s increasingly busy winter backcountry."

The epicentre of the trend, The Times believes, is near Whistler, with dozens of skiers and snowboarders driving toward the Pemberton Ice Cap. Sixty machines can be parked at a time near Crested Butte, where the road leads across Kebler Pass. Also mentioned are snowmobile-skier controversies near Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Vail.

The article also explains several causes for the surging use of snowmobiles. Improved skis have allowed average skiers to get into the powder snow at ski areas. Frustrated powder skiers are then heading into the backcountry on snowmobiles that, like skis, have improved markedly in recent years.

But for many backcountry skiers like Kim Hedberg, who heads the Colorado-based Backcountry Snowsports Alliance, motors remain unwelcome. "They don’t understand that their use of a sled is ruining my experience," she says.

Aspen finds it’s part of problem

ASPEN, Colo. — The Aspen community goes to great lengths to be environmentally correct. It has recycling programs, mass transit, and even gets most of its electricity from wind generators and hydroelectric plants.

Still, in what some have called the greatest environmental problem of the 21 st century, Aspen is responsible for twice as much greenhouse gas per capita as the national average.

How can this be?

Air travel is the biggest part of the story. Nearly all of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels, and air travel along comprises 41 per cent of Aspen’s emissions, a new study says. In other words, Aspens’ air travel is comparable in percentage to the industrial emissions in cities that are heavily industrialized.

Cameras go on cameras

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — It sounds terribly narcissistic, even for reality television. In a new series to be called "Destinators," the camera filming spots about travel destinations will be in front of cameras. The story is about the making of a story. The premier episode will focus on Steamboat.

The Steamboat Pilot explains that upon arriving at a destination, the Destinators challenge a previously chosen local production team to compete in a "show down" to produce the most effective eight-minute video travel guide. Each team will have 72 hours to complete its video. The series will be broadcast on the R&R (Residence and Recreation) Network, which is available to Dish Network subscribers as well as Time Warner Cable customers.

Snowslide provokes policy change

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — The fallout from a rare but major in-bounds avalanche at Arapahoe Basin last May was first a fatality, and now a new policy. That policy will allow ski patrollers to err more on the side of caution if they encounter snow conditions they find suspect.

Joe Foreman, the Forest Service snow ranger for Arapahoe Basin, said steep, slide-prone slopes could be closed earlier in the year, based on more detailed observations of temperatures as well as snowpit data from new locations.

In reporting this, the Summit Daily News notes that the Forest Service intends to improve understanding and hence forecasting of wet-slab avalanche with research at several places in the West.

It must be cheap

HAILEY, Idaho — County officials in Blaine County, which is where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, are looking at adopting inclusionary zoning as a way of ensuring more affordable housing.

The proposal calls for 20 per cent of the lots and houses in county subdivisions to be permanently restricted as affordable housing. That zoning requirement has already been adopted by the town of Hailey, where the county seat is located, while Sun Valley requires 15 per cent. Ketchum, explains the Idaho Mountain Express, has an incentive-based program that allows for increased density in developments that include affordable housing.

In Colorado, Steamboat Springs city officials have also been studying inclusionary zoning.

Real estate sales rise in Park City

PARK CITY, Colo. — Park City’s total real estate sales last year hit nearly $2.1 billion, a 70 per cent gain over the previous year. It was also the first time past $2 billion for the resort area.

As in other resort areas, condominiums saw the largest activity, edging out single-family homes. As relatively new inventory is coming on line this year, demand is expected to squeeze prices higher yet, although a new record is now expected for this year, real estate agents tell The Park Record. Real estate agents partly explain the growth by the proximity to the airport at Salt Lake City, only 45 minutes away.

CB may get a bowling alley

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — For whatever reason, bowling is becoming cool again. A bowling alley is part of a proposal for a major redevelopment project in Vail, and now a 10-lane bowling alley is before officials in Crested Butte, a town better known for its alley ski race. The Crested Butte News explains the project has a great many planning hurdles yet, not least that traditional bugaboo, a required parking lot. By the town’s calculation, 55 to 60 spaces are needed. That’s about six cars per lane.

Truckee losing last picture show

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Truckee is losing its lone movie theater, to be replaced by retail shops. The owner of the theater, as distinct from the building, told the Sierra Sun that the theater had been breaking even financially, but no better.

Meanwhile, in the Colorado mountain town of Gunnison, the last movie theater was gone long ago, and lately there have been efforts to recruit one. But writing in Colorado Central Magazine, George Sibley questions whether a movie theater really is necessary anymore. Gunnison, which has a small college, Western State, brims with activities and entertainment, including live theater, he points out, and most every home has a DVD player.

Tinted snow on Rockies

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Snow from Telluride to Winter Park looked slightly tinted after a wind storm in mid-February. If it reminded some of the Painted Desert, there was good cause, explains the Summit Daily News. Fine-dust particles had been picked up in Northern Arizona and carried by strong winds into Colorado. Such dust storms are not unusual in the spring. Dust from deserts in Asia sometimes also taints the snow of the Rocky Mountains, explained Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Carbondale close to big-box ban

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Trustees in this town 30 miles downvalley from Aspen are pushing toward a ban on big-box stores of more than 60,000 square feet in size.

Town residents during the last several years had entertained the possibility of a shopping complex that might have included The Home Depot, but ultimately rejected it. The last agreement was that the town and the developer would work toward a common solution.

This proposed cap of 60,000 square feet, if adopted, would nullify that prior agreement, reports Carbondale’s local newspaper, the Valley Journal. The Home Depot says it needs a minimum 102,000 square feet.

While capping the size of stores well below the threshold for typical big-boxes like The Home Depot, the town continues to actively explore the possibility for what some would call a boutique-style Home Depot, as well as mixed retail, with housing being built in conjunction with such a store. That concept is central to the concept of New Urbanism that has many adherents in the Carbondale area.

Jackson Hole joins $1 billion crowd

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Even more than in the Vail, Aspen, and Summit County markets, real estate sales in Jackson Hole exploded last year. For the first time, total sales surpassed $1 billion. That’s a 46 per cent increase from the previous year.

By contrast, sales volume in Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, increased 40 per cent, Colorado’s Summit County increased 30 per cent, and the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located, increased 26 per cent.

In an interview with the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Clayton Andrews, chief operating officer of Sotheby’s International Realty, called it a huge milestone. "It allows Jackson Hole to be on par with some of the other resort sin the Rocky Mountains," he said.

The Vail-area sales were $2.8 billion, the Aspen-area sales $2.4 billion, and the Summit County sales were $1.47 billion. In contrast, the Telluride-area market hit $770,000.

As in the other markets, the story seemed to be one more of increased prices than increased sales. A study prepared by David Viehman of Jackson Hole Real Estate & Appraisal reported a 78 per cent jump in sales of properties costing more than $1 million. Of those, 34 sold for more than $5 million. The median price of single-family homes in Teton County, which is where Jackson Hole is located, increased by 20 per cent. The new median is $750,000.

The most expensive sale was a $12 million purchase of a 3,800-square-foot house with a guest house on 100 acres. At year’s end, the least expensive home on the market was just a nose under $500,000.

Who is buying the homes? Leslie Peterson, an associate broker at Sotheby’s, told the newspaper that her buyers were not rushing. "I do think we’re seeing the leading edge of the baby boomers," she said. "They’re very smart, for the most part, and not impatient. It’s often a two-, three-year process … They come back in different seasons."

Those buyers, she said, can be classified by their locational druthers. "You’ve got your crick-bottom people and your ridgetop people," Peterson said.

Consistent with some other resort valleys of the West, the hottest action seems to be in the pretty semi-rural countryside of exurban Teton County, not in the city of Jackson or even particularly at the ski area base village. Currently, Jackson has 47 per cent of the county’s population, but within a decade expects to have only 40 per cent of the population, even as the total population grows.

Cold night for trio

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A trio of snowboarders attempted to snowshoe from Telluride across 13,114-foot Imogene Pass and down to Ouray. They started late, were ill prepared and knew very little about the route, which is plagued by avalanche potential. To top things off, they encountered a howling storm, the effect being "like needles going into our faces and our lungs," the lone female in the group later said.

All’s well that ends well, even if they did get a public scolding from rescuers in the pages of the Telluride Daily Planet. The three survived by wisely turning back at the pass, seeking refuge in an old powder cache, a concrete bulwark, at the long-abandoned Tomboy Mine. If not for that, there was some speculation they may not have made it, as they had no spare clothes or sleeping bags.

"Our whole bodies were shaking and convulsing," said the woman who, unlike her male companions, was actually glad to see rescuers the next morning.

"The ground team located the unprepared and ungrateful trio and assisted in their egress," said the press release from the search and rescue team.

Interest grows in biomass

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Interest in building a wood-fired biomass plant continues to grow in the resort communities from Vail to Grand Lake that are plagued by beetle-killed forests.

Summit County has the most active plans. Current planning aims to put a biomass plant on line as early as the winter of 2007-08. The plant being considered would be located near Frisco, where a variety of county offices, as well as a new hospital and medical campus, are located. The thinking, explains the Summit Daily News, is that the heat produced by the burned wood could be used to heat the various buildings.

Pollution emitted from the two 30-foot smoke stacks is a concern, although the county’s special projects manager, Steve Hill, said the two-boiler project being proposed would emit slightly more particulate matter than two 2,000-square-foot homes heated by old-fashioned wood-burning stoves.

A consultant, Howard Gebhart of Air Resources Specialists Inc., further explains that national air quality standards allow a maximum of 150 micrograms of particles per cubic metre. The biomass plant can be "reasonably" expected to produce an average 13 micrograms per cubic metre, 26 in the worst-case scenario.

Still, only 8 micrograms are allowed to qualify for "pristine air sheds’ in and around national park areas. To keep the air that clean, Gebhart told the commissioners that scrubbing technology would be required, at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000.

The plume from the dual "smoke" stacks rising former the biomass plant would be barely visible. Water vapor, however, is another matter. While harmless as a pollutant, vapor can be more visible in colder climates and higher altitudes. One example is a wallboard factory at the town of Gypsum, between Vail and Glenwood Springs, which has a large, industrial-looking plume of water vapor for about half the year.

Elevated levels of mercury are also considered to be very small.

Still, at least some neighbors in Frisco are concerned. "Most of us have moved here because the air is pristine, and any degradation, even if it meets EPA standards, is just not acceptable," said Philip Sanderman. Said another a neighbor, Mike Wood, "It sounds like a good thing to me, but you don’t necessarily want it blowing into your back yard."

Representatives of Vail, Avon, and Beaver Creek, meanwhile, recently went to Austria to study biomass plants in operation in high-end resort communities. "It was beautiful in its simplicity," said Stan Zemler, Vail’s town manager.

Driving these concerns is a desire to rid the forests that edge the resort communities of the combustible dead trees of recent years caused by the beetle epidemic. In most cases, the aging forests are expected to become even more problematic in coming decades.

‘Global warming’ misleading

MAMMOTH, Calif. — A climate scientist from San Diego says he wishes that the phrase "global warming" had never been introduced. It’s a misnomer, said Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, because the effect is broader and more complex than mere elevation of temperatures.

Speaking at a conference of meteorologists held at Mammoth, Somerville pointed out that "global warming" is thought to increase cloud cover, which in turn reduces daytime temperatures. But that same cloud cover increases nighttime temperatures.

What’s wrong with that? Among other things, explained The Sheet, which covered the meeting, this shift provides the optimal temperatures for growth of a certain fungi that lives on the skin of amphibians. Harlequin frogs in Central and South America are thought to have become extinct as a consequence of this fungus.

Uzbekistanis arrested

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Six people from Uzbekistan were arrested for overstaying the limits prescribed by their H-2B immigration visas. They entered the United States last April on visa valid through October 2005. Their sponsor was AA Janitorial. The summit daily news reports that two of three others from Uabekistan who had been sponsored by AA Janitorial who were arrested in St. Louis, Mo., last week apparently on the same charges.

Ethnic intimidation charged

GYPSUM, Colo. — A man from New York was charged with harassment and ethnic intimidation after an incident at Eagle County Regional Airport. The Vail Daily reports that the man was driving his rental car from the airport when he discovered problems. Arriving at the rental counter, he was reported to be agitated, and refused to wait in line. Witnesses told police that he swore and yelled at the clerk that she was "in the wrong country" and threatened to have her fired.